On Oct. 19 on Worsham Field in Lane Stadium, President Tim Sands announced Desiree Velez as the 2019 Homecoming Queen.

Velez is the first Latinx Homecoming Queen in the history of Virginia Tech. As the crowd roared in excitement, many feelings filled the audience, such as hope, relief, shock, reassurance, and pure happiness.

The organizations nominating candidates for 2019 included Virginia Tech Union (VTU), Student Alumni Associates, Delta Sigma Phi, Alpha Chi Omega, German Club, Delta Delta Delta, Chi Alpha, Chi Delta Alpha, Men’s Rugby, Vietnamese Student Association, Delta Psi Nu, Alpha Phi, Delta Chi, Kappa Delta, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Latin Link.

Out of the 16 candidates running for Homecoming Court, two were sponsored by ethnic organizations, the Vietnamese Student Association and Latin Link.

Erika Nelson, a senior majoring in architecture in College of Architecture and Urban Studies, interviewed Velez, a senior majoring in biochemistry. Her interview follows below.

Erika and Desiree Velez, 2019 Homecoming Queen
Erika Nelson (left) with Desiree Velez

My first interaction with Velez was when she attended the Black Student Alliance (BSA) monthly general body meeting, where she publicly spoke about her platform for the first time in front of an audience. Her message left an impression on the room once she was done.

Not only did Velez explain her platform and why she was running, she also educated everyone on the devastation that impacted Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 hurricane, which occurred on Sept. 20, 2017. This was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. She explained why it was so important to be able to help these communities who have had their whole worlds turned upside down due to natural disaster, why natural disasters affect everyone, and how/why we should help the environment. As Velez spoke, you could hear and see the emotion in her voice and body language as she described her hometown. My peers and I were inspired.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Velez for a Q&A about her experiences, advice she wants to share with others, and the legacy she wants to leave behind.

Q: What inspires you?

Velez: “Through the past four years at Tech, it has been kind of hard to figure out exactly what inspires me. Over time and through experience, I have come to realize a big part of it is obviously my family and where I come from, but also comes with wanting to do things for other people. I came to realize it has always made me happy and brought me a lot of joy because I have realized how much other people have given me and how much that has helped me with my success; academically, personally, and mentally.”

Q: What made you want to run for Homecoming Queen?

Velez: “So actually, initially, this was spring of last year … several people in Latin Link had asked me to do it. They were basically explaining to me that of course Homecoming wanted to improve their diversity and so they kept asking and asking us. Obviously we’ve always been a small organization and we don’t exactly have a lot of funding. [When] several people started asking, I was like ‘Oh no, absolutely not. It’s way too stressful and it’s way too much for my plate. Then of course people started saying, ‘You’d be the first Latinx candidate.’ And I said, ‘That sounds pretty good!’ Then eventually I kind of thought, ‘This is something that I can do to give back to the people who have given me so much and have made me grow so much at Tech.’ Then, I decided, ‘Okay, let’s try it out and go to an information session to see how much I like it.’"

Q: Are you someone who takes chances?

Velez: "Definitely. The thing is … when I started this endeavor, I totally thought I was not going to win. I realized that regardless whether or not I won or lost, it would mean something to my community. It would strengthen us. It would give us a step out. It would open the door for us. That’s when I came to realize that no matter how much I put in, or how little, it was going to make a difference. So yeah, definitely someone that takes chances.”

Q: “With knowing comes caring, and with caring comes change.” This was the tagline for your campaign, what does it mean to you? What do you want it to mean to other people?

Velez: “So actually I meant it in two ways, depending on who I talk to I emphasize it differently. [The first being that] sometimes and too often people tend to not care about issues unless it affects them directly. And that has to do with being environmentally aware, but also has to do with being a minority. As a sustainable aspect, it was more so that people will learn about the issue, learn about what it’s doing to people’s homes, [people’s countries]. And recognize that those are people in their classes; those are people on campus. We are here, we are present, and we are being affected by that. That’s why you should care, because we are all a community. Another aspect is, of course, understanding that unfortunately there is a huge difference between how diversity is portrayed and how it feels to be apart of those marginalized communities, at Tech specifically. And of course, running for homecoming is a big tradition at a predominantly white institution and the big emphasis on that is to recognize that there are barriers. Recognize that people are [enduring] microaggressions, and being treated differently because of where they are from or the color of their skin. Educate yourself on that so you can make everyone else here feel at home; not just the people around you or that you are close to.”

Q: What went through your mind when they announced your name in Lane Stadium on Saturday night at the Homecoming Game?

Velez: “Moments before they announced my name and they announced the Homecoming King, my heart was beating really fast. I was thinking in my head, ‘You’re ready for this, you’re ready for this. It’s okay, you made history regardless.’ And they said my name, and I had my arm in my dad’s arm. He looks at me and is like, ‘Desiree, they said your name!’ He was just as shocked as I was. I was on the verge of tears. Thank God Katherine, the other Queen, told me ‘All you have to do is say a little speech and then you can cry as much as you want.’ It was really shocking. I remember the 135 messages I got right after the announcement and all of the videos of everyone crying. Reality is … it wasn’t just me who ran; it was our community and that’s what got us there. That’s what made us win. Everyone came out. Everyone supported. We’re just such a passionate group of people, [that] when we reached out to people we said, ‘What’s your name? Where are you form? Why do you care about being environmentally aware?’ It’s on a more personal level because that’s who we are; that is our culture. It was all a huge shock, but it was the best kind of shock I could have asked for.”

Q: Many of times minorities doubt themselves and their dreams, what is something you would like to share with those who may be doubting their dreams due to race, gender, sexuality, and many other minority backgrounds?

Velez: “One of the biggest reasons I started this campaign and decided to run for Latin Link: I wish I would have had this community when I started at Tech. Of course at a predominantly white institution, it is kind of hard to recognize that there is still a lot of opportunity for us. This being the first ever, that is another opportunity, that if we were at a more diverse institution I may have not had that opportunity. [Latin Link is] such a compact and small group, that we all know each, know where we are from, know our family. That’s what I really loved. One of things I want to emphasize is that, I have been through back and forth at Tech. I have had my good moments, I have had my bad moments. Being a part of Latin Link has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. One thing that I emphasize to people is that you are not going to be comfortable when you are growing, and you are not going to grow without getting out of your comfort zone. It really takes stepping out of your bubble; being open-minded. Being open-minded is one of the things that is hardest to learn, but one of the best concepts to have in your personality. I even told the younger Latin Link crowd, ‘Take advantage of every opportunity and don’t ever feel like you don’t belong there because you deserve to be there as much as anyone else and even if you’re the only relatively closer ethnic person in the room, THAT IS OKAY. You can be that person.’ Make sure you teach other people about where you are from and why you care and why they should care. It’s not about talking back and being mad; it should be more about educating the person and having that conversation. You have to be respectful. And yes, they may not understand and maybe they’re not educated, [but] that is what we are here for. It’s important for our smaller population to branch out, talk to people, have them understand, and be open-minded. [Lastly], of course step out of your comfort zone even when it’s really, really hard.”

As we all come across various different backgrounds throughout our day to day lives, it is important to remember, “With knowing comes caring, and with caring comes change.”

This approach should be the basis of how we interact with one another because it is important to educate, as well as digest information with an open-mind. Your interaction with someone could change your life and their life through one respectful conversation about what and why something is important to you. Be that impact. Be that change. Be that HOKIE.

— Written by Erika Nelson, a senior majoring in architecture in College of Architecture and Urban Studies